Measure for Measure
Known as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”, Measure for Measure has long divided critics. Angelo’s puritanical ethics twinned with his ruthless pursuit of Isabella speak to the irreconcilable schism at the heart of morality. As does the impossible bind in which Isabella finds herself: should she save her brother, or preserve her own virtue? Even the Duke, the de facto moral centre of the play, is compromised by the end of the drama’s action — he saves Isabella from Angelo’s clutches, only to take her for himself. It is because these tensions are never resolved, but left to linger and swirl on stage like a winter fog, that the play still bewitches the fragmented postmodern mind.
Through the zealous rule of Angelo over the city, the play asks us to consider what happens when the law is enforced in its strictest form. With Claudio harshly sentenced for following the instincts of his lover’s heart, the play renders a troubling scenario in which following the letter of the law creates painful injustice — something modern audiences continue to relate to.
Victims remembered as Grenfell inquiry begins
What would “Justice4Grenfell” look like? The inquiry into the fire started yesterday with bereaved families remembering the 72 victims. Some desire punishment. Everyone wants the truth.
The dramatic decline of the death penalty
The number of executions recorded worldwide in 2016 fell by 37% on the previous year, including a sharp drop in the USA. Is it time America fully abandoned capital punishment?
‘Butcher of Bosnia’ convicted of genocide
Does international criminal law work? The vicious Serbian commander Ratko Mladic has been given a life sentence by a war crimes tribunal. But not everyone is satisfied.
“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where / To lie in cold obstruction and to rot […] And blown with restless violence round about / The pendent world.” These are Claudio’s words as he contemplates his impending doom. Though often performed as a comedy, the play has a tragic edge which asks us to consider the mysteries of death — sharpened by the fact that they are faced by such a young character.
Prince Harry opens up about ‘chaos’ of grief
Almost 20 years ago, Prince Harry was 12 when his mother Diana died in a car crash. Her death shocked the world. But the prince dealt with it by “sticking his head in the sand” — until now.
‘No resurrection’, say one in four Christians
As Easter weekend arrives, a survey has found that a quarter of British Christians do not believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Does this matter? Or is religion all symbolic anyway?
AA Gill’s deathbed request: ‘the full truth’
Three weeks after revealing his diagnosis, the Sunday Times journalist has died. He leaves behind a brutally honest article about his experience of cancer. Should we all be more open about death?
Most male characters believe they can take whatever they desire — an entitlement not limited to the women around them. The play condemns this attitude while also tacitly allowing it (for example in the Duke’s forceful proposal to Isabella). Gender relations may have evolved, as the recent #MeToo movement suggests. Yet the intense debates which encircle the campaign prove that uncertainties remain.
Crisis deepens over Westminster sex scandal
Are we seeing a sexual counter-revolution? Several MPs face uncertain futures after widespread sexual harassment claims. Some say that this reflects big shifts in how society views sex.
#MeToo: women worldwide stand up to sexism
Can a hashtag really change anything? Women in their thousands are writing on social media about their experience of sexual harassment and assault. Some doubt whether it will have an effect.
‘Why we believe #MeToo is a witch hunt’
The actress Catherine Deneuve has apologised to victims of sexual assault after endorsing a public critique of the #MeToo movement. The letter triggered a global outcry. Read it here…
Isabella is a novice nun who (unlike other characters) practises the piety she preaches. Although she desires to stick to the “truth of spirit”, her resolve is repeatedly tested by a licentious society in which devotion is overruled by appetite. Her godly manner may seem remote to 21st century audiences, but her dogged adherence to moral principles is a lesson that applies to all.
‘Beginning of the end’ for Western religion
Should we care that organised religion is dying out in Western societies? A survey published earlier this week revealed that levels of religious belief in Britain are at an all-time-low.
Philip Pullman: ‘human nature demands meaning’
Is it possible to be spiritual but not religious? Philip Pullman thinks so. After a 17 year wait, yesterday he finally published the prequel to the celebrated His Dark Materials trilogy.
‘Why I believe in Pope Franciss mission’
Through his human warmth and democratic style, Pope Francis has an appeal which goes far beyond the limits of his church. He is reminding the modern world of the significance of religion.
Like many other plays of the period, Measure for Measure ends in a spate of marriages. Not all of them seem promising, with Lucio comparing his forced betrothal to a “pressing to death”. As the ancient institution of marriage grapples with the mores of modern society, the tensions of matrimony that the play performs are increasingly legible in today’s world.
Forced marriage to be criminalised in England
Force someone to marry against their will and you could go to jail. This new law has been hailed as a great human rights victory by some, but will it work in practice for those at risk?
‘End of marriage’ forecast as lifespans grow
Battered by high divorce rates, rocked by social change, pummeled by expensive weddings, criticised as not fit for purpose. Is the world’s most revered institution on its last legs?
‘Sexist’ marriage under fire after court case
A heterosexual British couple have failed to win the right to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage. But the law may now change. Should the decline of marriage cheer us or worry us?